Every neighborhood has that one establishment that causes people to continually scratch their heads at its very existence. Certainly, the Red Lagher qualified as one, since the health inspector should have shut the place down with a can of gasoline and some matches a long time ago. The curious thing about the bar was that once you started drinking there, you got tugged into an inescapable whirlpool of drunken despair that kept you coming back for more. The Red Lagher wasn’t just a bar for people who had hit rock bottom, but for people who had been aiming for rock bottom the whole time with pin point accuracy.
The rest of that night was a blur of beer pitchers and swigs from Sam’s flask. When the morning sun pierced a crack in his bedroom window’s blinds, Liam was left with a mighty headache and many questions. How did he get home? Where had Sam gone? What was that soft, warm feeling next to him? Shifting in bed, what he found almost shocked him enough to cause his hangover to vanish altogether. Somehow, Sam had come home with him last night. Her leather jacket hung precariously from the edge of the bed and her t-shirt had rolled up in her sleep to reveal the lower half of her back. The shadows played over the scars that ran up and down her skin. Most of them, Liam knew intimately, but there were a few new ones that must have been earned since the last time he had seen her. One scar Liam remembered fondly was from a knife wound. It was still a vivid red, and around the scar was a tattoo that read, “Better luck next time, jackass.”
The truly amazing thing was that, despite the Dirt Gremlin infestation, Sam remained untouched. Leaning over the bed to examine her closer, he figured out why. Clutched in her hand was a tiny Dirt Gremlin, also passed out. Occasionally its leg kicked and its nose twitched, but the struggle to get free must have been a fruitless effort. Liam traced a few of the newer scars with his finger, and then he got up.
Breakfast is the meal of champions, which meant that Liam didn’t deserve it by default. From his recollection, Samantha Goodbody wasn’t much of a breakfast person either. She would take a light drink in the morning, as far as Sam did anything lightly, but Liam had spent the last couple of days drinking himself into stone cold oblivion, so his house was bone dry. Struggling into his clothes, Liam did something he hadn’t done in a very long time. He went out to buy something for someone else. The corner store nearby had just what he was looking for. Jack Daniel’s and a gas station sandwich. Anything fancier than that and she would have rejected it out right. When he got back to his apartment, Samantha hadn’t woken up or even stirred from where she lay, though the Dirt Gremlin she had clutched in her hand was awake and weakly attempting to struggle loose.
Waking Samantha Goodbody up had never been a pleasant task. Much of her time was spent out on the road, hunting down monsters, so when she woke up she often went in for the kill from sheer instinct before she managed to calm down. Liam didn’t worry about dying, he couldn’t do that, but he did worry about getting hurt because he did do that quite frequently. Laying down next to her and switching the gas station sandwich to the hand that held the bottle, Liam gently traced his hand along the curve of her back, “Wake up, buttercup.”
Samantha moved quickly when she woke up. She always had. It made Liam wonder whether she had been asleep at all. Her jeans and boots were on the other side of the room in a jumble, but her knife had made it to the bed and in the instant she woke up, she pressed the blade against Liam’s throat.
Liam shook the bottle in his hand, “Still a light sleeper? I brought you some breakfast, you psychopath. Now stop scaring the children.” He gestured to the small gaggle of wide-eyed Dirt Gremlins huddled around the night stand.
Sam looked around Liam’s apartment blearily, her blurred vision catching glimpses of Dirt Gremlins scattering into the shadows, including the one she had been clutching, “Your apartment sucks, Liam.”
“Just eat your damned breakfast and we’ll get going.”
Snatching the bottle out of Liam’s hand, Sam opened it and took a swig, “I’ve never been to the Neelan family house before. I’ve never met a Neelan I wanted to spend more time with than I had to, and I have lots of Neelan cousins. Have you ever been there, Liam?”
“The Neelan family does things very differently than the Nair or Goodbody Families. You both have one major house that makes a centralized home for the family. The Neelan family has dozens of apartments and houses all over the country, and they’re all in use. I’ve been to the one we’re going to before, if that’s what you mean?”
“My place is a shithole because of the Dirt Gremlins. That place is a shithole for all sorts of worse reasons.”
Sam slipped out of bed and got dressed quickly, not bothering to brush her hair or readjust her jacket. Without another word, they left the apartment. The Neelan house in question was in Queens, too far for walking. Keeping the lead, which remained a strange feeling while he was walking with Samantha Goodbody, he led the way to a major street and hailed a cab. The trip across town took a small eternity, but that was part of the price to pay for information. The Five Families existed as an organization that thrived because each family had a focus. The Goodbody family focused on hunting, the Nair family focused on diplomacy and ruling and the Neelan family focused mostly on being shit, if the rumors about them held any merit. In fairness, they focused on intelligence and they were willing to do some pretty shady things to get information.
Liam always felt that thieves were more gentlemanly than spies, because thieves have the decency to leave your unmentionables in your hidden desk drawer whereas a spy would ruin you with them. Once, a long time ago, when he had just started working for Simon, he had asked a member of the Neelan family for help. The Neelan he met reminded Liam of something he had once stepped on, if it had somehow become predatory in a very passive-aggressive way. Since the Neelan family traded in information, most of them spent little to no time in caring about their appearance. It was a sort of twisted logic that Liam could have potentially gotten behind. If the rest of the world already considered you entirely scummy overall, why care what people thought about your appearance? Liam thought that this theory was flawed because people didn’t need another reason to dislike the Neelan family, but that didn’t stop them from focusing entirely on their own work.
It took them around an hour to get across town to the one Neelan house Liam knew of. It was a ratty apartment in a private house that functioned as an information hub for the Neelan family in the area. The house itself was two stories. It was painted a stately off-white color that once upon a time must have been far more presidential. A few of the windows were cracked where someone had thrown rocks at them. What passed for a front lawn had a stack of newspapers overflowing onto the sidewalk. Liam led Sam to the front door and let himself in, stopping just inside the entrance to the house, “This guy is not going to want to give us information, so feel free to get physical.”
Sam cracked her knuckles gently, “Jack always said you should never make the Neelan family mad because they’ll ruin your reputation.”
Liam stopped to think that statement over, “Who exactly do you care about your reputation with right now? Anyone who matters to you already made their minds up about you years ago.”
They made their way up the stairs and Liam knocked twice before opening the door and taking a step inside. The lone occupant of the room sat in front of a myriad of computer moniters. His chair faced the door, hiding the occupant from view. Some of the moniters showed camera feeds from around the neighborhood, some of them had documents displayed and one had a music program open with some classical piece playing quietly to provide focus.
“I saw you coming from the cab, Liam. I thought I told you never to just walk into my inner sanctum.”
“And I can’t believe you still call this hole in the wall an inner sanctum.”
Sam snorted and covered her mouth, “That is a little hard to take when your inner sanctum smells like Cheeto dust and five hour energy drinks.”
The chair slowly wheeled around to face them. Calling its occupant a man would have been generous. He was short and thin, wearing a pair of shorts and a t-shirt with a black bathrobe over it that had a hood. The occupant had the hood pulled down over his face in an ill-conceived attempt to provide his visitors with a sense of dread, but Sam doubled over laughing at the sight of him. Liam wished he could laugh too, but he knew this man. John Neelan was a dangerous combination of pathetic and vindictive that most people sadly overlooked.
John pulled his hood back, revealing his messy, stringy brown hair and a pair of mismatched eyes. His left was a deep blue and his right a dark forest green, “What the hell do you want, Liam? I’ve got shit to do and my uncle has really been breathing down my neck about deadlines lately.”
“What, not keeping up with your blackmails?”
“As a matter of fact, I’m not. You can’t stay here either, I’ve got a three o’clock with some local peacock of a politician who wants to buy back some phots of him doing positively dreadful things on a miniature golf course with a small terrier and a couple of…”
Liam covered his ears, “I don’t want to know what you do for a living.”
Sam spoke up, answering John’s question, “We’re looking for information on the Lich that’s in New York City.”
“Oh, him. And why the hell should I give it to you?”
“Because if you don’t, I’ll break every computer in here and light all your hard drives on fire.”
Liam couldn’t be sure, since John was already very pale, but that was quite the effective threat. Whirring his chair around, John tugged on a pair of headphones with a mic attached and got to work, typing away at lighting speed. Sam peered into the darkness, looking for a place to sit down. Every flat surface, including the bed, was covered with wrappers and empty cans of various sodas. She decided she didn’t want to sit down after all.
All told, it took John around an hour to find the information they needed. His typing slowed and drew to a stop. He scribbled on a piece of paper before spinning around to regard them again, “I’ve got the address and the directions for how to get to him…” Sam reached for the piece of paper, only to have John pull it back out of reach, “But I need more reason to give this to you than destruction of my property. What else is on the table?”
“If we mess this up, we die.” Liam smiled, the kind of smile that suggested giving Sam the piece of paper was the safest course of action he could take at the moment.
“Sold. Get the hell out of my room.”
Sam snatched the paper out of his hand and walked out the door with Liam close behind her. He left his door open, knowing that it would bother John until it forced him to get out of his chair and actually close it himself. Sam had the piece of paper, so Liam had no idea where they were going in the city. He wasn’t even sure he was happy that the rumors about a Lich were true, but for now he was on this ride whether he liked it or not.